School Starting Age: European policy and recent research

Caroline Sharp

01 November 2002

This paper reviews school starting ages for children across the world in the light of national policies beginning with a brief outline of starting ages in 33 European countries where age ranges are from 4 to 7 - the UK having one of the earliest at 5. Issues involved are considered in some detail in the light of extensive recent research evidence. They are: the influence of season of birth and length of schooling on later attainment, citing several recent UK studies; the impact of flexible or delayed entry, based on Swiss and US studies; an overview of international comparative studies on the same issue; and the later effects of different early childhood curricula approaches - such as early reading and the influence of English pre-schools. Main findings are summarised and conclusions reflect a lack of definitive evidence on the beneficial or otherwise effects of early or late start, except that a late start appears to have no adverse effect on children’s progress.